Manage Numeric Data in Tables: MS Word

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Tables are often used to convey sets of numbers, whether times, dates, dollars, or quantities. Even with Table AutoFormat in MS Word, displaying numbers properly is not always easy. For example, you have to be sure to align a column of numbers on their decimal points. You may want to sort items in ascending (A-Z, 0-9) or descending order (A-A, 9-0). Also, if you have numbers totaled, you want to be sure to display the correct total, even if you change the figures.

Numbers often give the heart of the message in a concise, exact way. Using tables to display figures is a good idea, because the items are easily aligned in rows and columns. To maintain a professional image and communicate accuracy and credibility, you must also carefully handle decimal alignment, sort order, and totals.

Although you could right align a column of numbers within the cells, the effect might be to move them too far to the right. And if the numbers didn't have the same number of decimal places, they wouldn't align correctly. Instead, you must set a decimal tab.

  1. Select the column or cells containing the numbers.
  2. Click the Tab Alignment button on the left side of the ruler until the Decimal Tab icon is displayed. Click on the ruler to set the tab. You may have to drag the tab right or left to adjust the placement.
  3. The numbers immediately jump into alignment, so that the decimals are aligned. This also works for times, which are aligned on the colors.

If you set a decimal tab and then change the width of the column, sometimes the tabs get messed up. If this happens, remove them, make the columns a fixed width, and then set new tabs.

(c) Carol Bratt, all rights reserved. Used with permission. Duplication is forbidden without express consent of author. Visit Carol's web site to learn more tips like this one!

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